On Tolerance

What of this word TOLERATE? A word that easily draws itself as a line in the sand, a firm press of the Sharpie marker onto the page with “what I will tolerate” on one side and “what I won’t tolerate” on the other. It makes for a tidy and potent elevator pitch, a quick visual biography that everyone can understand when they ask me what I’m about at a cocktail party.
 
<insert wild applause for such conviction>
 
I’m already uncomfortable, aren’t you? Seeing that indelible Line of Tolerance stare up at me from the page, unflinching, unblinking. Holding me firmly and fiercely to a standard I originally thought to be magnanimous.
 
A fat, mean line that I know, deep down, will eventually cleave through my heart when someone implores me to be more tolerant. My once-swelling pride of steadfastness to particular ideals and values deflated by the realization that I have become stagnant and fixed, my legs aching as I stand ankle-deep in mud of my own design.
 
It’s not that I would ask you to be tolerant of all things. That you praise bigotry or thoughtless violence, clear-cutting of the Amazon or vicious displays of spirit-killing tyranny. This is where I wield the Sharpie with a firm, unshakeable hand, knowing that there is, in fact, a line that I will happily draw in permanent ink.
 
And then there are the other lines on my canvas. Ones made in pencil or charcoal, set down tentatively while I think it over, all made to be erased, blurred, challenged and chafed by other marks on the page. A mutable, never-ending conversation between the world and me.
 
I tremble at the thought of saying these words aloud. Letting the world know that I am uncertain of where I stand at all times, that I often find myself blowing in the wind, reeling from tides unexpected, my tolerance a fluid, live thing that wants to be given a chance to shift left or right, up or down when it is called for.
 
This isn’t to say that Tolerance is an idea to be trifled with, a place where we might park our fickle nature, use as a weapon when it suits us, polishes our public image.
 
Tolerance asks for our intent, truthful presence at all times. A finely-calibrated, simultaneous commitment to benevolence and fierceness, open-heartedness and demarcation. A willingness to speak up when it’s inconvenient, step back when our first thoughts stray to fiery, destructive confrontation.
 
Sword in one hand, artist’s brush in the other.
 
And then there’s the arena of public opinion.
 
For there, just beneath the surface of my skin, my heart often lurches forward in my chest as it seeks approval, friends on the playground, others that will nod their heads and say “Oh, look how incredibly tolerant she is!”
 
In some way, don’t we all long to be known for our great reservoir of tolerance? Our wise, benevolent Buddha-self, capable of expanding infinitely in all situations, allowing space for even the most nerve-splitting of circumstances? What a glowing moniker to be able to hoist above our heads so that everyone knows!
 
When in truth, that’s an aspiration that perhaps we should let go of.
 
It seems we must be able to humble ourselves at the altar of Tolerance. To drop to our knees, kneel in prayer for insight and wisdom that will guide us to better stand on our own two feet in the field of Tolerance, understand how we might stretch ourselves beyond the thirst of the ego.
 
Because in this, we demonstrate how Tolerance is not a race or a singular achievement. It does not have a beginning and an end, arrived at once and celebrated with a trophy and champagne.

It is more of a circle or perhaps even a sphere. A shape that asks us to keep going, seek more, be curious about where we might be taken next go-round.
 
Tolerance takes us beyond what feels comfortable or popular, demanding that we take a closer look at our relationship to forgiveness and surrender, our tired partnership with the 2D world of Right and Wrong.
 
That we allow ourselves to see beyond what is on the surface and seek the common ground that always pulses beneath the surface. A rhythm designed to coax us out of our sleepwalking stance toward something altogether more expansive, albeit foreign and untested.
 
There are no answers here. We are in a wide, vast valley of echoes that force us to turn and pause, reorient ourselves over and over again as the reverberations shift and change with the passing of time, the arc of the sun.
 
At the same time, in the same breath, we must be resolute enough that we can unsheathe our sword at a moment’s notice, slice through the thick of evil, the poisonous, soupy fog of hatred when it is called for. Even if that means our freshly-starched white shirt gets irrevocably torn and muddied in the process.
 
The call from Tolerance is that we remain pliable. To stand as the Willow tree, sturdy of center, wispy of limb. Prepared to move with the wind and withstand the ire of the tempest. Solid in our moral conviction, fluid in our quest for fewer convictions.
 
These questions of Tolerance are built into the human condition. It seems that God decided we needed to reflect on our capacity for other viewpoints as well as our unflinching certainty about what does and does not deserve our attention.
 
It’s up to us to engage the conversation, to shake off our frustration and fear, our determination to capture the uncapturable so that we can attune to signals meant to make us stronger and softer, more compassionate and impassioned, all at the same time.

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